At 5:12 p.m., President Lyndon Johnson called Roy Wilkins about the civil rights legislation. The president stressed the importance of getting 25 Republicans to support cloture in the Senate once the House passed H.R. 7152.
Johnson explained that he had talked to Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield for a frustrating 90 minutes to urge him to hold round-the-clock sessions in order to break the likely filibuster. “I can’t be too much of a dictator,” the president said, “but I’ll help you [Wilkins] in any way I can.” He continued, “you’re going to have to persuade Dirksen and why … this is [in] the interest of the Republican party and I think the Republican goes along with you on cloture, that you all ought to tell him that you’re going to go along with him and help him.” “I’m a Democrat,” Johnson said, “but I think that a fellow will stand up and fight with you. You all can cross party lines.”
Johnson doubted that cloture could succeed with only Democratic votes because Richard Russell (D-GA) had told him that he, Russell, had enough commitments to block the move. Johnson made it clear to Justice Department officials and to Mansfield that he favored wearing senators down by holding round-the-clock sessions, as he had done in 1960.
Mansfield, however, refused to pursue this strategy, fearing that marathon sessions might literally kill some of the Senate’s older members. Johnson’s strategy suffered another flaw, too. Bill McCulloch had extracted a pledge from the administration that H.R. 7152 would go through the Senate unchanged. Wearing down southerners to obtain some sort of compromise would violate that pledge. Consequently, the only way to force a Senate vote on the bill was through cloture.
The cloture challenge. Cloture, or Rule 22, was adopted by the Senate on March 8, 1917, after what President Woodrow Wilson described as a "little group of willful men" had wrecked his proposal to arm U.S. merchant ships against German submarines. Rule 22 permitted sixteen or more senators to file a petition with the clerk of the Senate against a bill or amendment. The petition had to be acted upon within two days of its submission, and then, if approved by two-thirds of those members present and voting, it limited debate to one hour per member. Of the 28 cloture votes taken since 1917, only five had succeeded. Tried eleven times on civil rights bills, it had failed eleven times.
The second session of the 88th Congress convened.
President Johnson, in his first State of the Union Address, stated, "Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined."
"Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union” (includes audio)
The House Rules Committee's public hearings on H.R. 7152 began in Room H-313. Chairman Howard Smith (D-VA) said the bill was “as full of booby traps as a dog is full of fleas.”
The committee's job was to consider a resolution that established the rules of debate for the bill before it went to the House floor. The resolution, prepared by the House parliamentarian, spelled out (1) the exact number of hours for general debate; (2) the allocation of these hours between the majority and minority; and (3) any restrictions on the introduction of amendments.
If the committee approved the resolution, the bill would be sent to the Speaker of the House, who would schedule it for floor debate.
The Rules Committee held nine days of hearings on H.R. 7152 between January 9 and 29. Five members of the House testified in favor of the bill, and 28 members, almost all southerners, spoke against it.
William McCulloch (R-OH), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, testified before the Rules Committee, terming the bill “comprehensive in scope but moderate in application.”
At 11:00 a.m., President Johnson met with Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Whitney Young to discuss strategy for his “war on poverty” legislation, which would spend billions of federal dollars on better schools, housing, job training, and community development.
The petition to discharge the civil rights bill from the Rules Committee still lacked enough signatures. President Johnson called Charles Halleck to the Oval Office. The bill needed to get to the House floor soon, for Halleck’s sake. “If I were you, Charlie,” Johnson said, “I wouldn’t dare … go out and try to make a Lincoln Birthday speech; they’ll laugh you out of the goddamned park when Howard Smith’s got his foot on Lincoln’s neck.” Johnson also repeated his promise to try to land a science center at Purdue University, which happened to be located in Halleck’s district.
Lawrence O’Brien, head of White House congressional liaison, told the president that 220 House members supported the bill’s passage, two more than needed for a discharge petition to succeed and for the bill to pass in that chamber.
Following his regular Tuesday breakfast meeting with Democratic congressional leaders, Johnson met with Joseph Rauh and Clarence Mitchell, two leading civil rights activists and members of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Johnson told them that he opposed any effort to strengthen H.R. 7152 (which might threaten its passage in the Senate). On the other hand, he would not be intimidated by a filibuster when the bill reached the Senate:
I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care if the Senate doesn’t do one other piece of business this year, you’ve got to keep this bill on the floor. You can tell Mansfield, you can tell anybody, the President of the United States doesn’t care if this bill is there forever. We are not going to have anything else hit the Senate floor until this bill is passed.
The House Rules Committee continued to take testimony on H.R. 7152. During the next three days it heard from 12 House members.
Richard Bolling (D-MO) told chairman Smith that the end was near: if Smith did not conclude the hearings before the Rules Committee within a week, a bipartisan group of representatives would take over the committee.
The 24th amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of states (38). The amendment prohibited both Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of taxes.
At the end of the Rules Committee meeting, Chairman Smith announced that 26 witnesses remained to be called and that hearings would continue to January 30. The House Democratic leaders announced that floor debate on H.R. 7152 would begin on Friday, January 31.
President Johnson persuaded NASA to give grants totaling over $1,000,000 to Purdue University, the most prominent university in Charles Halleck’s district. Halleck was minority leader of the House and key to passing H.R. 7152 in the House with bipartisan support.
The Joint Senate House Republican Leadership meeting included discussion of civil rights. When asked if he would support “any major changes in the civil rights bill” when it came to the House floor, House Minority Leader Halleck replied, “Well, the bill will be coming to the floor under an open rule, and I never said—and I never promised anybody, that every line in it is perfect. I think it’s a matter for the House to determine in the light of the debates that will be had.”
The Rules Committee held its tenth and final hearing in executive session. The committee voted 8-7 against specific clearance for an amendment to bar discrimination by sex as well as because of race, color, or religion. By a 12-3 vote the committee refused to clear an amendment by George W. Andrew (D-AL) to create a federal resettlement commission to move blacks out of the South.
After accepting a single amendment to the bill extending civil rights to Native Americans, committee members voted on Resolution 616, which set down the rules for the consideration of H.R. 7152 on the House floor. The vote was 11-4 in favor of passage, with only southern Democrats opposed.
The House Rules Committee cleared H.R. 7152 for floor action under an open rule: after 10 hours of general debate, the bill would be read, title by title, for debate and voting on proposed amendments. Nine days of debate followed.
About 60 southern Democrats attended a closed-door caucus to develop opposition strategy to the bill. They decided to concentrate their attack on the public accommodations, employment, and federal funds cutoff titles of the bill.
About 60 southern Democrats attended a closed-door caucus to develop opposition strategy to the bill. They decided to concentrate their attack on the public accommodations, employment, and federal funds cutoff titles of the bill. They also agreed to limit their speeches and avoid delaying tracts because they did not want to alienate wavering members who might otherwise support their weakening amendments. In practice, however, “they approached the debate pell-mell, throwing up amendments with no apparent plan of how to get them passed.”
The House readied itself to take up the most far-reaching civil rights bill since the Emancipation Proclamation.
H.R. 7152 would go through the same six-step process followed by all bills that had preceded it since 1789. The House would, in 1964, (1) pass a resolution setting the guidelines for consideration of the bill (the "rule"); (2) resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to engage in general debate; (3) offer, consider, and take unrecorded votes on amendments; (4) resume sitting as the House to take recorded votes on any accepted amendments if one-fifth of the members requested it; (5) permit a minority party member to offer a recommital motion, enabling the minority to obtain a recorded vote on any defeated amendment; and (6) vote on final passage.
Steps one and two were completed on this day. Resolution 616, authorizing the terms for debate, passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote, and the House resolved itself into a “Committee of the Whole.”
The challenge for civil rights forces now was to prevent the bill from being weakened by amendments from segregationists. As the Committee of the Whole, the House could permit members to vote on proposed amendments without recorded votes. Because 100 members constituted a quorum in the Committee of the Whole, a hostile amendment could easily be passed with a handful of votes, unless enough pro-civil rights members were present to block it. That required the pro-civil rights forces to make sure there were enough pro-civil rights members on the floor whenever a vote was near, to head off the opposition.
Despite the risks, eventual passage of the bill seemed assured. There were only 100 or so reliable southern Democratic votes. As long as the Republican leadership stuck with the bill, they would combine with the unified northern Democrats to produce a bipartisan, affirmative vote.